Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Simply Nostalgic, Or Simply Not Needed?

Roxette, Partners in Kryme, Chad Kroeger, Coolio, Badly Drawn Boy, Celine Dion, U2, Seal, Wet Wet Wet, Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Limp Bizkit, Whitney Houston, The Righteous Brothers, Will Smith, Prince…

What do all these artists have in common?

They all had chart hits with a movie theme song (yes, even Chad Kroeger ).

Before we go any further, and to avoid any confusion, when I say a movie theme song, I don’t mean a song that a movie has nicked for its trailer, or to put on its soundtrack of eleven other random songs. What I mean, is an artist or band who have written a new song, or used one of their own, and made an actual music video that features clips from the film.

Got it? Good. Lets move on.

I remember as a kid, watching Saturday morning TV and being promised by the presenters that they will be showing a new music video for a new film that was due out. Sometimes it was a great song that really helped capture the feel the movie was going for (U2 – Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me: Batman Forever), sometimes it was just plain bad (Roxette – Almost Unreal: Super Mario Bros.), sometimes it got stuck in your head for days ( Will Smith - Men In Black: Men In Black) and sometimes it was just an unstoppable force (BryanAdams – Everything I do: Robin Hood Prince of Theives). In fact, I think it’s still currently number one.

U2 were turned into comic book characters for the Batman Forever video
Even if you did not particularly like the song (I can't tell you how much hated that Bryan Adams song), what it did do, was get you excited about the film.  The music video would show you clips from the film and snippets you had not seen before. It was the old school ‘teaser trailer’.

In an age before the Internet was the common marketing tool, it was a powerful way for studios to generate hype for a film which would then go on to pocket them lots of money. They would make a nice sum from the music video, and the artist would make a lot of money from a boost in music sales.

So why have they seemingly come to a halt? Stop me if I am wrong, but the only recent films I can think of to use music videos have been the Transformers films with Linkin Park (with the exception to the Bond films of course!) They associated their name to all three Transformers movies... and it paid off. Their music sales went up each time a Transformer film was released. But despite their record sales going up, their credibility went down. Was there anything wrong with what they did? Is there anything wrong with a band or artist writing a song for a film, knowing it will make them more money? Or is that what people call selling out?

The Transformers songs transformed Linkin Parks success. Haha, get it?
No one had a problem with Celine Dion cashing in on a real life disaster, or Seal singing about a man dressing up as a giant bat. But I’m not here to debate about what constitutes selling out. What I am asking is - is this the reason artists are distancing themselves from such ventures? Are they worried about how it may look these days? Is it now seen as 'cheesy' to release a song for a film? And if so, when did this happen?

It would seem in this economic climate, when music artists are complaining about illegal downloading hurting their industry, now would seem like an ideal time to ‘sell out’ and make some money. With the amount of big budget action films being released at the moment (The Avengers, The Dark Knight, Dredd 3-D, Captain America etc), surely it wouldn’t hurt anyone to have released a song/video for these films. I would have thought that these types of films would have been a great place for a band to step up and write a song for. There are rom-coms coming at us left, right and center, but no love songs to go with them. Would an army of women not rush out and buy a song for a new Channing Tatum film if it was sung by Adele or Rhianna?

I have seen however, a new trend occurring. Artists and bands are now writing scores and soundtracks for films. Recently notable from the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Karen O and Alex Turner. Who have recently worked on Hanna, Tron Legacy, Where The Wild Things Are and Submarine. However, none of them released an actual music video for any of their tracks - an opportunity surely missed. Fever Ray - of duo The Knife - penned a song called The Wolf specifically for the film Red Riding Hood. But again, no music video was to go with the film. It simply featured in one of the films scenes. A shame considering the song itself was perfect for the film.

Fever Ray on her day off
The songs that are being written for films only seem to feature in the film, on the trailer or on the soundtrack. In the artists eyes, maybe writing a full soundtrack is not is seen as selling out and something more credible and artistic?

Perhaps another reason for the current lack of film music videos, is that now maybe because we have the internet, it does not make financial sense to make a music video for a film. We do not need to wait to see the music video on the television or go out and buy the single at Our Price with our pocket money. We can just go onto YouTube and watch them on there at our own convenience.

But I’m just a 30 year old man, with a love of nostalgia. I had a pre-YouTube childhood, where you would have to watch the whole of Going Live just so you didn't miss out  on the new music video that had been promised to you by Schofield three hours ago. I also love the memories each song conjures up in me. I love that I can hear a song from my childhood and immediately place it with the film it was from. I can remember where I was when I first saw the video and the excitement I got from it, and the anticipation for the film itself.  Even if the song sucked - which to be fair, most of them did, except for T.U.R.T.L.E Power of course...

I feel that a new generation of children are missing out on future trips down memory lane.

Bring back the movie music video.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Please Sir, Can We Make Some More?

Now, if you’re a film fan like me, you would have noticed something odd happening in Hollywood. In fact, it’s been happening for a while now. There are a distinct lack of original films being made.

We are seeing some of our favourite films being remade and pumped out of the Hollywood factory like there is no tomorrow.  

Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Arthur, Fright Night, Footloose, Karate Kid, Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian. What is the one thing that all of these recent remakes have in common?

They were all unnecessary.

Some of the original films (Conan the Barbarian and Footloose specifically) granted, were not well made films. In fact, they were bordering on bad. But it is that ‘so bad it’s good’ fact that has made them such cult classics amongst film fans. We do not want Hollywood trying to make them better. We like them how they are.

The real question is, why are Hollywood so hell bent on taking our childhood memories and destroying them in front of our very eyes? Simple… money.

The suits that run Hollywood do not care one bit as long as they can make a profit. However small that profit is, however bad the content and lack of artist merit, they will continue to plough money into remaking classic films. They will keep banging out remake after remake and generally destroying what people loved about the originals. Hollywood try to justify this by saying that young audiences never saw the originals, and older audiences would watch simply out of curiosity. It depresses me that Hollywood are treating their audiences this way. Firstly, that kids of today would have no interest in seeing an old film. Secondly, that they think adults would want to see the remake of a film they already love. But they are making money, so maybe they do have a point?

Two recent films, one that was seen as a hit and another that is being seen as a flop, show that Hollywood make money despite the content. The 2010 remake of Karate Kid was a surprising hit. Not only was it good, but it managed to make back its money in its US opening weekend and is now the highest grossing film in the series. The film cost a mere $40m to make and made $56m in just three days. It has so far grossed $176m worldwide.

Karate Kid 2010 Vs Karate Kid 1984
The new Total Recall film is doing things the hard way. It recently managed to make $26m in its opening weekend but has currently made $110m worldwide. It cost the studio $125m to make. This film has been touted as a flop, yet is still to be released in the UK. So the studio can rest assure that unless there is a national power cut during its UK opening weekend, this will make back all of its money despite it being critically panned.

Total Recall 1990 Vs Total Recall 2012
Flight of the Navigator, Robocop, Carrie, Starship Troopers, Point Break (which has already been retold as The Fast and the Furious) and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (prepare to have Michael Bay shit all over your childhood) are currently all next in line for remakes.  


When is Enough Enough?

Hollywood enjoys a sequel. In fact, sometimes they don’t know when to stop. They will run a story into the ground and bleed it dry all in the name of a quick buck. Notably so with the following franchises:

Saw - 7
Fast and Furious - 5 (currently making number 6)
Die Hard - 4 (currently filming number 5)
The Terminator - 4
Indiana Jones - 4 (writing number 5)
Mission Impossible - 4
The Bourne films - 4

Hollywood have recently announced sequels to Bill and Ted, Ghostbusters, Dumb and Dumber and Top Gun. Four films no one ever thought we would see more sequels to. It seems the longer you leave it, the more the audience want it. They now have nostalgic value.

But unlike remakes, we don’t seem to mind as much with sequels. If the last in the series was a genuinely good film, we the audience will always leave the cinema wanting more. Plus for Hollywood, if it made a lot of money, they will have no trouble making another.  It makes financial sense.

In some cases, namely the super hero genre, the first film does not even have to have been released before Hollywood start talking sequels. Before The Avengers was released, Hollywood knew they were onto a sure thing and were already talking about where The Avengers 2 will take us.

Avengers Assemble! Lets go make a sequel.
As long as each sequel is bigger and better than the last, we are simply happy to go along with it.

Live Long, and Prequel

On rare occasions Hollywood do seem to know when to call it a day. The Star Trek and Alien sequels for example, had gone as far as they could. The characters' stories had been told and prolonged (and in Ripley’s case, actually brought back from the dead). The actors were too old to reprise their roles and Hollywood knew there was no point in continuing.

The answer? Prequels.

A prequel is a great way of reigniting a franchise. It means the studios can pretty much take the ideas anywhere they want, as long as they tie in with the originals in some way, shape or form. They can also use new actors for the roles of characters we already know and love, so as to please the die hard fans. We can see how the story we know so well began, without ruining the original films. Prequels will always add something new and will always gather interest from audiences. They will always make money.

A brand new cast for Scott's Alien prequel, Prometheus
More often than not, prequels pass with flying colours. The Star Trek prequel was a hit with critics and they have almost finished filming the sequel. Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, Prometheus, was one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year and they are currently writing a follow up with a third also on the way. However, as Mr Lucas found out with Phantom Menace, they can fail. Not financially, but artistically. This is why he made two more. Meesa sorry.

The Reboot

Unless you live under a rock, you would have heard by now of a little movie that came out recently called The Dark Knight Rises. The third installment to Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. Critics have hailed this trilogy as one of the best comic book (and non comic book) trilogies of recent time.

After the disappointment of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 over the top, laughable and more camp than Louie Spence at Butlins, Batman & Robin disaster (remember the bat nipples?). No one could have foreseen a Batman film ever doing well again. The Batman name had been dragged through the mud, and the Hollywood studios were reluctant to commission another Batman film. They also knew they could not make a prequel as Tim Burton had already done the origin story in 1989. Unless they wanted to show us Bruce Wayne in college for 120 minutes, they were stuck.

But then a British director named Christopher Nolan came to them with an idea. He did not want to make another sequel or a prequel, he wanted to re-invent Batman. Some may say - the whole comic book movie genre.

Nolan wanted to start all over. He wanted to leave the Burton and Schumacher films in the past and concentrate on a new origin story. A more gritty and realistic version of the caped crusader, with a start, a middle, and an end - a trilogy. Hollywood put their faith in Nolan, gave him the cash and he delivered. With style.

Nolan's Dark Knight
In a similar fashion, we recently had the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy. The first two films were very well received by critics and fans. The third film however, was widely panned. Given that the very subject matter is of a comic book character, Raimi had somehow managed to turn Spiderman into something laughable and over the top. He lost what everyone loved about the first two outings. Instead of making a plot focused film, he tried to do too much, turned it into a comic book soap opera and on an artistic level, inevitably failed.

On a financial level however, it became the highest weekend grossing film of all time. It made a staggering $151m in its opening weekend. It was reported that it cost $280m to make and it has now made $890m worldwide. Do you really think Hollywood care that it was rubbish? No, me neither.
Now, Hollywood loves a franchise - it is money in the bank. What they don’t like is when a franchise comes to an end. Like Batman, pre-Nolan, and despite the financial success, Spiderman had now come to an end.

There was no way of making a sequel to Spiderman 3 without failing and ‘doing a Schumacher’. So how do they overcome this obstacle? By rebooting Spiderman and starting from scratch. The new director clearly taking tips from Nolan’s previous efforts. They went for a much more dark and gritty tone. Only ten years on since Raimi’s original, and despite luke-warm reviews, Hollywood now had a new Spiderman reboot, and a new money making machine. The Amazing Spiderman was a box office success. We now have a sequel to look forward to.

Chin up Peter, there's always a sequel in the pipeline!
In 2013 we will have a Superman reboot to look forward to, due to Bryan Singer's awful Superman Returns sequel. This time they have turned to director Zach Snyder. It will also be produced by Christopher Nolan (yes, the man who re-invented Batman). 

With Batman coming to an end, it is safe to say that Hollywood have a new success story on the way.

Can We Blame Them?

If seems that if the studios can leave the original films alone, no real harm can be done. We can simply dust off our VHS tapes and watch the originals and not need worry about the remakes. In the case of Raimi's Spiderman films they will always be loved, as will Tim Burton's Batman films.

While Hollywood continue to make money hand over fist, and whether we want these sequels, prequels and reboots or not, they will continue to make them.  They will always generate huge public interest be it good or bad. If they know they can make a good profit from remaking a film we all loved as a child, they will do so without thinking twice.

Although I can honestly say that I have not seen one remake that has bettered the original.

I'm sure a Hollywood executive could take out their wallet and prove me wrong.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Real Olympic Legacy

It has been five days now since the 2012 Olympics came to a ceremonious end after London had been the center of the world for two weeks. People are still talking about their favourite moments from the games and leaving their British flags up for all to see.

For a nation that prides itself on multiculturalism,  hanging the British flag, for most, was seen as something to feel ashamed about. Something to feel guilty over. Why is this? When did a symbol that unites all the home nations become such a taboo subject? Up until the Olympics, it felt wrong to be patriotic in fear of either offending others or looking like you were part of the British National Party. And this is where the problem lies.

Over the decades, the British flag has been turned from something that unites, to something that segregates. In the late 1960s a new right wing party had been formed by members of the BNP and League of Empire Loyalists (LEL). This party was The National Front (NF). The cornerstone of the National Front's manifesto was immigration and non-whites, "The National Front advocates a total ban on any further non-White immigration into Britain."

When you hear the words National Front mentioned or the BNP, one of the first images you think of is the British Flag. The reason being is that they used this flag as a symbol. A symbol of Britain. Something they stood for. They wanted people to think that what they were doing was an act of patriotism. They wanted everyone in the country to be British and white. What they actually achieved was turning Britain against them and the flag into something people despised through its links with such political parties.

The British flag was incorporated into the NF's own logo.

One of the other images that comes to mind when you think of such parties are Skinheads. The Skinheads became synonymous with these far right parties. It became a uniform for the members. Harrington jackets, Ben Sherman shirts, braces, drainpipe jeans and Dr Marten boots.

The Skinhead subculture was born out of the Mod movement in the 60's. Working class youths who had had no money up until the post war economic boom, began to spend their money on new fashions that were worn by American soul and R&B groups.

The Mod scene then gave birth to Skinheads, which was primarily a 'tougher' looking version of the Mods. Skinheads were heavily influenced by Jamaican Rude Boy culture and fashion, ska music and early reggae. It is important to know that the Skinheads did not start out as a racist and violent subculture. It was born out of a love of music and fashion.

It was in the mid 1970's that some (not all) Skinhead groups became affiliated with the far right parties. Working class youths with no money, lack of work, angry at the government, now had somewhere to put this anger.

1970's Skinheads with British Flag in the background

It is from this point that people then made the assumption that all Skinheads = racists, and that the British Flag was their symbol. Whenever images of the National Front were in the paper it was more often than not photos of young men with shaven heads, with a British flag being waved.

These ideas of Skinheads and the British flag have been firmly planted in our heads. I myself am not a skinhead but I do own a fair amount of Skinhead clothing. I own a Harrington jacket, Ben Sherman shirts and Dr Marten boots. I remember once wearing my boots to work a few years ago for the first time. I will always remember what my friend at work said to me as I walked into the office, "Watch out people, here comes 'Romper Stomper'!"

At first I laughed along, but then suddenly I felt a wave of guilt over me. I immediately wished I had not worn them to work. For anyone who doesn't know, Romper Stomper is a 90's film that follows the exploits and downfall of a neo-Nazi skinhead group. Why did I feel guilt for wearing a nice looking (and comfy!) pair of boots? One, I'm not a Skinhead, and two, I'm not a racist.

Even with a far right party that was started over 40 yrs ago, we cannot help but associate the British flag with these groups.

Until now.

I honestly believe that these Olympics have been able to re-claim the British flag (and what it means to be British) back from the far right and stamp out peoples' negative connotations that surround it. Being British is about acceptance, togetherness. It's about learning new cultures, not judging others and welcoming those from less fortunate countries into our own.

Jessica Ennis, Olympic gold medalist
For two weeks the British public have been waving their flags for Team GB's athletes. From a working class woman with a Jamaican father and a white mother, to a black woman who won the first ever female boxing Olympic gold medal, to a Somalian immigrant double gold winning medalist. The Olympics has brought the whole nation together, all religions, all races.

We have been able to fly the flag for all the right reasons. Forgetting everything it has stood for in the past. Great Britain is a multicultural society. I hope that the Union Jack can now be flown all year round in pride, rather than shame and not just once every four years.

This is the Olympic legacy.

Mo Farah, Olympic double gold winning medalist

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Rock 'n' Roll over? It's just tuning up.

So, according to Ian Youngs at the BBC, there has been a distinct lack of genuinely good rock and roll bands in the past couple of years.

If you are just looking at it from a constant UK Chart Top 10  viewpoint then yes, I guess you would have to agree. But does this mean that there is a lack of talented bands? I think if anything the past couple of years has produced an abundance of genuine raw talent. We have had Wild Beasts (Mercury Prize Nominees 2010), The xx (Mercury Prize Winners 2010), Florence and the Machine (Mercury Prize Nominees 2009), Glasvegas (Mercury Prize Nominees 2009), Friendly Fires (Mercury Prize Nominees 2009), The Last Shadow Puppets (UK Chart No.1) and The Raconteurs (UK Chart No.2) to name just a few.

The answer to why there is a lack of rock and roll in the charts is not down to talent, it is down to the new generation being force fed mediocre pop and R'n'B by money grabbing record companies not bothered about anything else other than a quick £Million.

Take today's current top 10 singles for example:
  1. Cheryl Cole - Promise This
  2. Rihanna - Only Girl
  3. Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are
  4. Cee Lo Green - Forget You
  5. Mike Posner - Cooler Than Me
  6. Katy Perry - Firework
  7. Duck Sauce - Barbra Streisand
  8. Nelly - Just A Dream
  9. The Wanted - heart Vacancy
  10. Tinie Tempah - Written In The Stars
Now, despite this horrific list of music I do not blame the younger generation.  The record companies of course are a major reason for this. But you also have to question popular radio stations and their play lists. Radio 1 and Capital FM for example. Throughout the day, overpaid DJ's bang out rubbish after rubbish to a generation of kids being brainwashed that this is not only good music, but the only music out there to listen to.

I remember a time when a band such as N'Dubz (que joke - 'what do you call a woman with 2 c**ts?') would be laughed off of the stage and then have their CD confined to the Woolworth's 99p Bargain Bin. No more. This is now the standard.

Lets look at Kings of Leon's recent success story. Before 90% of the country had even heard of this band they had managed to release 3 critically acclaimed albums. Their debut album was built around simple 4 chord Blues/Rock'n'Roll, with a band image that would make you think this album was first released in 1969. Their 2 follow up albums stayed true to their rock'n'roll roots albeit progressing musically and magazines such as NME and Rolling Stone had nothing but praise for this band. Yet their music was being given no air time on mainstream music radio stations.
Kings of Leon, 2003.
It is now 2010 and Kings of Leon have just released their 5th studio album which goes straight in at No.1 in the UK Charts. The reason for this sudden popularity? Simple. They have bowed down to their record company. Stadium rock, a clean image and one of the most musically bland albums of the year with more radio friendly songs than Justin Beiber. No more do the band hide behind a 70s beard, long hair and flares (ok well maybe the drummer!). No more does this band stick to its roots. No more Rock'n'Roll.

Kings of Leon, 2010

So maybe that's the answer Ian Youngs is looking for? It is not the fact that Rock'n'Roll is void of any talent, it is the fact that the bands that do have the songs and the talent are not being given the radio time and exposure this genre needs to help save a lost generation from bland, dull, predictable and easily forgotten pop music.

Either that, or bow down to record labels and forget why you started the band in the first place.